Monday, May 23, 2011

Are Books an Endangered Species?

You know, at some point a budding author like me should just stop reading stories like this on the Internet, because they’re both chock-full of heady goodness and slopped to the brim with fearmongering.

Nevertheless, into the abyss.

Michael Levin writes for Forbes magazine today that the major book publishing houses have only themselves to blame for the decline of the print book industry.

At first, reading the story is a relief: It’s not my fault. See, I worry about that. Because I am kind of a conundrum: I want to write and publish books, yet I can’t remember the last time I bought a book that didn’t come with a Deseret Industries price tag on it. I just don’t buy new books, printed or e-book. There are plenty of used ones out there to keep me in reading material until the day I die or until the day I’m the only survivor in a post-apocalyptic landscape and yet don’t ironically break my glasses.

 Used under the fair use doctrine for commentary purposes.

Here’s the crux of Levin’s argument:
The traditional New York publishing business model — publish a ton of books, fail to market most of them, and hope that somebody buys something — worked well when publishers had a hammerlock on the distribution and marketing of books. Publishers essentially faced no competition and enjoyed complete control of what books people could publish and sell.

In today’s world, however, anyone from John Grisham to John Doe can put up a book online with Smashwords, Lulu, or Kindle Direct, and bypass publishers — and bookstores — all together. Authors can use Google AdWords or social networking strategies to market their books far more effectively than publishers ever could.  So who needs New York?*
That’s the heady goodness part. Yay! We don’t need the snobs in New York to publish and market our own books. We are free of the tyrannical chains of The Man.

But wait. That puts us, ironically, full in control of cheap bastards like me. Levin points that out, but without the fearmongering that I see in his words:
Yes, Kindle and iPad are game-changers. When you read books on a device, a few things change.  You’re moving into an environment where you typically don’t pay for content — almost everything online is free. So publishers won’t be able to charge $10 or $12 for an entire book when people only want a chapter’s worth of information. So much for ebooks as a revenue stream for the publishing houses.
I’ve seen these so-called “social networking strategies.” They work for the tiniest of majorities, function as an empty room in which to shout for the masses. And the idea of giving things away? Ay yi yi. So how do I get paid?

*Interesting side note: Either Forbes still adheres to the ancient tradition of putting two spaces after each sentence, or Mr. Levin does and Forbes’ copy editors didn’t bother to fix it. There’s another question for the ages.

No comments: